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The mummy-laden crypts of ancient Egypt have contained several treasures, including silver, gold, and other precious metals. However, mummies themselves contain extremely valuable materials, as well as information about the past. The DNA found in these mummies hold important details about these ancient people and where they came from. Today, researchers have analyzed the DNA from a large number of mummies.
The journal Nature Communications recently published a study in which scientists analyzed the DNA from 151 mummified Egyptians from the Roman period. The study found that the genetic material of these mummies was more similar to those people of the eastern Mediterranean, such as Palestine and Israel compared to those in modern Egypt. It was previously believed that conquests by Alexander the Great and other foreigners had a great genetic influence on ancient Egyptians, however, this recent study has shown that this is not the case.
The study’s author, Verena Schuenemann, who works with the Institute for Archaeological Sciences at Germany’s University of Tubingen, claims that the study also demonstrated a genetic linkage between Neolithic people from modern day Turkey and these ancient Egyptian mummies. The scientists were able to get enough preserved DNA from three of the mummies to look at genes from throughout their genome. A gene was found in one of these genes, “which contributes to lighter skin pigmentation and was shown to be high frequency in Neolithic Anatolia,” or modern day Turkey, researchers say.
The researchers found mitochondrial DNA in 90 individuals, which is genetic material found outside a cell’s nucleus and is passed down from the maternal side to offspring. Schuenemann says that herself and researchers “were surprised to observe good mitochondrial DNA preservation.” This was highly unexpected due to the chemicals used in the mummification process, as well as the environmental strain on the mummies. It is possible that new techniques used to analyze DNA could help study the genetic material from a large sample of mummified Egyptians.
Hannes Schroeder, a paleogeneticist at the University of Copenhagen, claims that this new research “succeeds where previous studies on Egyptian mummies have failed or fallen short.”
In the past, many scholars have argued whether or not Egyptian DNA may be too degraded to analyze. Some feel that the DNA is too contaminated with modern genetic material, however, in this study, researchers worked in a clean room and used UV light to remove recently deposited DNA from the mummies. They also scraped off the exterior of the bones to get to DNA on the inside.
All of the mummies were found at the archeological site of Abusir el-Meleq, which was located in ancient Middle Egypt. For this reason, researchers note that the results of this study cannot be generalized to North or South Egypt, which may have been more strongly affected by foreign conquests.
Featured Image via WikiMedia Commons